Last night I watched the new documentary "Take your Pills: Xanax" which I had read about in Maria Shriver's Sunday Paper (a really wonderful email newsletter). Even before it got started, Kelsey (my husband) paused the TV and said, "Why do you think anxiety is such a problem these days?"
And I said, "I don't know what the documentary will say, but I think it does have largely to do with social media. People are constantly on display, they are trying to have a perfect life. They think that everyone else has it all together... We are plastered to our phones, which is a very anti-social behavior... Our phones are also constantly buzzing us with news of earthquakes on the opposite side of the world, and diseases, and we feel like we are not in control, and we can do nothing but stand by and watch."
And low and behold, that's almost exactly what this documentary talks about. 😂
(But really, you should still go watch it!)
My Story with Anxiety
I've struggled with anxiety, but especially between the ages of 22-29 — after I graduated from college and before my accident happened. I was never prescribed anything for it, but sometimes, quite randomly, my heart would just start pounding. I think at the center of it was anxiety caused by not having:
A) Meaningful work
B) A support network i.e. Family nearby — I was super lonely.
C) My phone was a tether, and I was never far from it.
Last week I read the Wikipedia article about Existential Crisis, and my mind was kind of blown. I finally realized that much of the anxiety I had experienced was a product of not knowing what to do with my life, which is the root cause of a really common existential crisis for 18-30 year olds.
I had so many interests (from art, to teaching, to architecture and building), but I wasn't making money doing any of them. I also didn't know if my boyfriend was "the one" at the time — partly, I think, due to there seeming to be an infinite amount of potential partners in the world. (I believe our ability to find anything with just a few keystrokes is another reason we feel so much anxiety— it breeds anxiety of commitment.) I had so much potential, and I felt totally STUCK. (I believe the formation of Tiny and Snail had alot to do with becoming unstuck, as well as moving home, and ultimately, my accident.)
(Just so you have the real story, I was prescribed a few anti-depressants/ nerve pain medications after my accident. I felt like they really helped me mentally, especially for the first few years when adjusting to the demands of being a paraplegic. I am currently working on tapering off of them.)
Tell me more about Existential Crisis?
The term "Existential crisis" is basically synonomous with "lack of purpose." Anxiety and depression are classic markers and loneliness is a huge trigger.
I think so many Americans suffer from anxiety for pretty similar reasons to what can cause an existential crisis. Maybe these are even one and the same.
How does all of this relate to card writing?
If the documentary was right, our phones are slowly poisoning us. This technological revolution is unprecedented. Certainly there are many benefits of this technology (such as us being able to run Tiny and Snail!), but I think we are starting to see the result of this grand experiment we've been running for the past fifteen years, and the data doesn't look good. (This article from The White House is pretty scary.)
I think there are other factors at play as well, but if this documentary and my calculations about this mental health epidemic are right, we are chipping away at our health and happiness almost every time we open our phones.
I would like to hold up "Card Writing" as something we can do to combat the lures and pitfalls of technology.
If you think of mental health exisiting on a spectrum for every person, anti-social behaviors (like checking our phones) wear away at our mental health. All of the little irritations add up into some pretty severe consequences.
On the other hand, every pro-social action we take, such as thanking the person at the grocery store, or baking cookies for someone, slowly bolster our mental resiliency and happiness.
I believe writing cards is actually an AMAZING tool for combating the effect that "social" media is having on us.
Instead of reaching for your phone when you are bored, reach for your stationery stash. Grace and I have come to really love our boxes of stationery because it is right there. When we think of a person we would like to write to, there's always a good card in there.
Grace said to me one time, "having a stationery box is like cutting up vegetables to have easily accessible in your fridge so you make healthy snack choices." Having a box of cards is like this: you can pause for ten minutes, recognize the goodness and beauty of another person, and know that they will be delighted to find it in their mailbox too. It's an ACTIONABLE step you can take.
Writing longhand also has amazing implications — when we write longhand, our brains process it more fully. So when we write out our gratitude in a card, the effects are even greater for boosting our happiness.
Cards are also nice because they are physical. It takes us away from the screen, and we can touch beautiful paper, arrange stamps on the envelope. It takes us back to the beauty of the everyday and interrupts the addiction to technology. (Maybe you don't have an addiction to your phone, but I certainly did/do!)
I really like the idea of writing to people when I'm happy, and writing when I'm sad. I think writing to a specific person also helps because, unlike a journal or diary, it has more direction, and the emphasis is on someone else, not on yourself (which is really a pro-social action). I have found a lot of meaning in writing these Sunday emails for all of you, too. (My digital letter to you!)
I hope you can take some time this week to take a "healthy mental snack break" and write a card. December is a month that can be really hard but also hold alot of goodness and beauty too. I think it's a perfect month to tend to your mental health, in the quiet, meditative way that cards do.
Rooting for you always,
Tiny (And Snail)
Have you noticed a happiness boost from card writing?
Think back to a card that you wrote recently that made you really happy. Did it have a lasting effect? Are you still thinking about what you said? Were there any factors that increased the mental boost, such as the randomness of the recipient?
I'd love to know more in the comments!